Mitzvot (pl.) are commandments.  The Talmud calculates that the number of mitzvot commanded by God in the Torah is 613.  These are divided into positive commandments (248 things which we must do) and negative commandments (365 prohibited actions).

As many of the commandments have to do only with the Temple or applied only when the Temple stood there are far fewer relevant Torah commandments today.  On the other hand the sages (s.v.) expanded the halakha (s.v.) to apply far more broadly and specifically than what appears to be contained in the Torah and their rules are also considered mitzvot. These Talmudic authorities divided the commandments into those considered d’Oraita (Aramaic for “from the Torah”) or d’Rabbanan (from the Rabbis).

These commandments apply to every facet of individual and communal life and are not limited only to ritual or religious behavior.  Another breakdown also divides mitzvot into two groups:  Commandments that apply to people’s relations to God which are of the religious nature and commandments that apply to people’s relations with one another.

One is obligated to observe the commandments when one becomes an adult which, according to the traditional Jewish definition is 13 for boys and 12 for girls.  The ceremony which marks this coming of age is called Bar- (or Bat-) Mitzvah and means “one to whom the mitzvot apply.”

The opposite of a mitzvah is an `avera or transgression. Jewish thought generally ascribes rewards for mitzvoth and punishments for transgressions in the world to come but also regards their observance as joyful service to God rather than as an unwanted burden.  This is expressed in the rabbinic statement “God wanted to reward Israel, therefore He enlarged the Torah and multiplied its mitzvot” (Mishna Makkot 3:16).”

An observant Jew is referred to as one who observes “Torah u’mitzvot

Mitzva in Yiddish (pronounced with the accent on the first syllable) carries the connotation of a good deed rather than an actual commandment.

The Ten Commandments:

By Jekuthiel Sofer | Press on pics for source

Rossing Center logo

More about Judaism

Rossing Center logo
  • All
  • Jewish Basic Concepts
  • Jewish Communities
  • Jewish festivals
  • Jewish Life Cycle
(Venice) La distruzione del tempio di Gerusalemme -Francesco Hayez - gallerie Accademia Venice
Tisha B’Av

Tisha B’Av is a Jewish day of fasting, symbolising the peak of the three week mourning known as Bein ha-Metzarim. It is considered the most …

Introduction: Who are the Jews?

Who exactly are the Jews? There are those (including many Jews themselves) who see them as a religion (like Christianity or Islam) while others see …

The Jewish Calendar – Introduction

Every human culture has particular ways of marking time, calendars and festivals—usually, both feasts and fasts. It is human to seek meaningful ways of marking …


While often mis-translated as “law” Torah means “teaching.”  Torah is used in the widest possible sense including teaching, wisdom, doctrine, heritage and tradition and can …


Mitzvot (pl.) are commandments.  The Talmud calculates that the number of mitzvot commanded by God in the Torah is 613.  These are divided into positive commandments (248 things …

Sages – Hazal

Hazal is an acronym for the Hebrew words Hakhameinu Zikhronam Livrakha (our sages of blessed memory) and refers primarily to the rabbis of the Talmudic period.

The group known as the sages came into being in the second Temple times and continued until the Arab/Muslim conquest – a period of over 1,000 years.  The Sages were dedicated to interpreting the Written Torah (s.v.) and applying it to Jewish life.  According to their own tradition (Pirkei Avot 1:1) the Sages inherited the traditions revealed to Moses orally, passed them on and developed them further.  Belief in the Oral Torah is the most important characteristic of this group.  They are the creators of the Mishna, Talmud and Midrash (s.v. Torah – oral).